Is your default setting to self select out?

This week's reflection piece was sparked by a discussion with one of my senior level clients.  She had asked for feedback from a trusted advisor in her network and the feedback was summarised as follows:

"It's as though you are doing the hokey pokey dance with your leadership goals and career.  You put one foot in, then you pull it back and retreat for a bit with your concerns about your own abilities. Then you repeat a few times, before you commit."


Tough, but quite possibly one of the most powerful pieces of career advice she will receive. (And she has given me permission to share).

In a nutshell, the feedback was about -

  • on one hand she was asking for challenge and leadership consideration, but on the other hand she didn't always see challenge as an opportunity,
  • on one hand she was ambitious, yet on the other she deferred to others who may be more experienced, and
  • in some circumstances she was supremely confident yet in others, not so much.

And I'm betting she is not alone.

The most referenced example to this can be found in the Hewlett Packard research into the differences in men and women applying for (internal) roles, where women tended to wait until they met all 5 of the 5 criteria, whereas a man would be more likely to apply if he met just 3 out of 5 criteria.  

(My executive recruiter friends tell me that it's not unusual for them to get calls from men demanding interviews, yet they only meet 1 out of 10 criteria.) 

Combine this with a tendency to underestimate and downplay your current abilities, which has a flow on effect to your future performance, and you're beginning to understand why I am passionate about helping people move beyond.

Too often we self select out because we don't think we meet all the requirements yet, have it all together yet or are good enough yet.

It must be confusing for those around to see that in some instances you are super confident, and the next minute you are leaning out, downplaying or underestimating.  In one instance you say you'd be interested in stepping up and leading, and in the very next sentence you self select out and seem to be asking for additional support.


Self selecting out frequently sounds like the following:

  • "Oh but there're are probably others who are better suited/need it more than me out there."

  • "You must work with others who are far more talented than I am, so maybe I'm not right for it." 

  • "Others in the group have been here longer than me and deserve this more than I do."

  • "The competition is far too strong, I'd never stand a chance so I won't bother."

Just like the humble brag, if this is your default setting, it's got a sting in the tail. Maybe you think you're being polite and humble, but to the outside observer, this sounds like low confidence. And in a society that correlates confidence with competence, this is yet another credibility killer.  Plus you've got the even harder job of making up ground and convincing yourself yet again of your own worthiness.

Self select in consistently instead

Flick the switch!  Back yourself 100% by investing in BRAND YOU; your unique combination of expertise and experience, the things that you are passionate about, along with your ability to learn. 

Back yourself!

Back yourself!

  • Next time you see a role with a price tag that looks higher or lower than you were expecting, but you love the sound of the role, at the very least give it your best shot so you get to have a great conversation with those recruiting. You might be just the talent they are looking for and/or they may just be prepared to meet your highest expectations on salary once they've learned more about the impact you make.
  • Next time you hear about a project coming up in your area that you'd like to lead, instead of assuming  the person with more longevity in the department should have it, why not throw your hat in the ring? You won't know if you don't try.
  • Next time you see a scholarship or award opportunity that you'd normally dismiss, throw yourself into the process 100% and give the nomination your best shot. The process of nominating for these opportunities is incredibly educational, and you can't win it if you're not in it. 
Might as well jump (Jump!), Might as well jump, Go ahead, jump (Jump!), Go ahead, jump.
— Van Halen

Because when you are prepared to back yourself consistently, it's catching. And others are more likely to invest in you as well.

Then instead of doing the career Hokey Pokey, get out your old 80's Van Halen album and  "Jump".  (Too daggy? Yep, I know, but I couldn't resist.)

And do let me know how you go!

Feminine leadership superpowers +  self selecting in = priceless


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